Seeing Red? How To Deal With Eye Infections

Your eye hurts. You blink rapidly a few times. Then you look in the mirror. And you see that your eye looks as sore as it feels — red, watery, maybe a little swollen. You’re likely looking at an eye infection. 

Eye infections can crop up in different parts of the eye, sometimes in both eyes, and sometimes in just one. The symptoms vary, but can include: 

  • Pain in your eye
  • The feeling that there’s something in your eye
  • More than normal sensitivity to light
  • Watery discharge from your eye — possibly yellow, green, or bloody
  • Unusually dry eyes
  • A gray or white sore on your iris (the colored part of the eye)
  • Blurred or decreased vision
  • Fever with no other cause 
Eye infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. These microorganisms can attack any part of your eyeball or other tissue near the eye.

Common Eye Infections

Eye infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. These microorganisms can attack any part of your eyeball or other tissue near the eye. Common eye infections include:

  • Conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye.” This is a very contagious infection, often seen in children. Teachers, daycare workers, and others who work in close proximity to children are at increased risk for contracting conjunctivitis. Infants born to mothers who have a sexually transmitted disease can also get a conjunctival eye infection during birth. 
  • Stye, a bump on the eyelid that results from bacteria getting into the hair follicle of an eyelash.
  • Ocular herpes. This is caused by a herpes virus, often transmitted by close contact with an infected person who has an active virus. The most common form of ocular herpes is herpes keratitis, which is an infection of the top layer of the cornea (the clear covering at the front part of the eyeball). Less common forms of ocular herpes can cause scarring of the cornea. 

P-W-WMN02961-Eye-Infections-smOther, less common, eye infections include acanthamoeba keratitis, which can result from swimming or using a hot tub while wearing contact lenses, and fungal eye infections that can result from an eye injury, particularly if the injury was caused by plant matter, like a twig or thorn. If the eye has been scratched, cut, or punctured, a current tetanus shot is recommended. 

Treatment And Prevention Of Eye Infections 

If you’re having symptoms of an eye infection, talk with your health care provider about the best way to treat your specific case. Generally speaking, bacterial eye infections are usually treated successfully, often with a round of antibiotic eye drops or ointments, and compresses. Many common viral eye infections often go away on their own, though some may require prescription eye drops to reduce inflammation and resolve the infection. 

Follow these steps to reduce the risk of contracting an eye infection:

  • Wash your hands before touching your eyes or handling your contact lenses.
  • If you’ve been with a person who has a red eye, avoid touching your own eye until after you’ve washed your hands. 
  • Use anti-infective cleaning products to help prevent common bacterial infections in places like daycare centers and classrooms. 
  • If you wear contacts, follow all safety and hygiene tips offered by your ophthalmologist and the contact manufacturer. 
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